UK and India commit to deeper defence relations
The MOD announced this week that the UK and India will continue to strengthen their defence and security relationship, with the two countries more closely to tackle terrorism and threats to cyber security. The announcement was timed to coincide with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UK. Of particular interest, was the statement that work is underway on building a long-term approach to the UK and India’s defence industry-to-industry relations, allowing both nations’ Armed Forces to share technologies and learn skills from each other.
Separately, the agreement will enable collaboration on internet governance, promoting international cyber stability, tackling online crime and developing cyber security sectors. Both nations are committed to design, create and manufacture technologies that help protect citizens and businesses against malicious cyber-attacks. Discussions have also been held on how the Royal Navy can work more closely with their Indian counterparts to ensure the safety and prosperity of the Indian Ocean region – tackling piracy and drug trafficking, as well as protecting freedom of navigation rights. The UK already plays an active role in maritime security in this region through counter terrorism, counter piracy and maritime security operations because a free and open Indo-Pacific area is in the interests of the UK, India and the international community.
Armed Forces skills shortages at critical level
UK National Audit Office (NAO) reported this week that the Armed Forces have a significant shortage of personnel with skills in critical areas and are not expected to meet this shortfall within the next five years. The report highlights that the number of full-time military personnel in the Armed Forces is 5.7% (8,200) below the existing requirement – the largest gap in a decade. There are, though, much larger gaps in critical skills. 102 ‘pinch-point’ trades do not have enough trained regulars to carry out operational tasks without measures such as cancelling leave or training. The NAO report suggests that the challenge is also likely to grow as the Ministry of Defence (the Department) will increasingly require new specialist technical and digital skills to respond to the emerging threats of modern warfare.
The MOD itself estimates that it will resolve the shortfalls in only six of these 102 ‘pinch-point’ trades within the next five years. The Department has prioritised essential defence tasks, but the report highlights that the approach of placing increasing demands on regulars is not a sustainable long-term solution. The shortfalls result mainly from recruitment and retention problems. In 2016-17 there was a 24% shortfall against targets for the number of regulars recruited into the Armed Forces. The Department’s reliance on a ‘base-fed’ model – where it recruits regulars into the lowest ranks and develops their skills and experience over time – has not enabled it to close capability gaps quickly enough. The Commands have implemented initiatives to improve the recruitment of skilled personnel but many of these were at an early stage and small-scale.
MOD CONTRACTS: Asked how many contracts of value over £100m awarded since the 2015 SDSR have taken tax revenues into account as an award criteria, and what the weighting was in each of those contracts, the Minister for Defence Procurement, Guto Bebb MP, replied that “Each year, the Ministry of Defence awards a significant number of contracts, taking into account a number of elements to determine what is the most economically advantageous tender. We do not take tax revenues into account as an award criteria in government procurement as this would be inconsistent with demonstration of value for money as set out in the HM Treasury Green Book.”
AWACS: Asked what recent progress had been made on the Multi Role Vehicle (Protected) Group 1 and 2 contracts, Mr Bebb replied that the programme “…is being delivered in two packages. For package 1, the Command, Liaison and Logistics vehicles, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle manufactured in the United States by Oshkosh has been identified as the preferred option, with the US Department of Defense Foreign Military Sales acceptance letters expected to be signed shortly. Package 2 will provide the Troop Carrying Vehicles and Future Protected Battlefield Ambulance, and is currently the subject of an ongoing competition, with a decision expected in early 2019.”